A legal stoush over construction of Melbourne's West Gate Tunnel is headed to arbitration, after the $6.7 billion project's builders pushed to rip up their contract.
Hundreds of workers lost their jobs on the stalled project, meant to be an alternative to the city's heavily congested West Gate Bridge, amid the ongoing fight over PFAS-contaminated soil at the construction site.
Toll giant Transurban took CPB Contractors and John Holland to Victoria's Supreme Court, after the two builders asked to be let off their end of the bargain.
CPB and John Holland argued the contaminated soil amounted to an extraordinary and unforeseen circumstance, meaning their subcontract could not be fulfilled.
The builders also accused Transurban of engaging in misleading or deceptive conduct over the extent of contaminated soil at the site before the deal was signed.
Transurban in turn sought an injunction to stop the builders from beginning what it said was premature arbitration in breach of its rules.
It was also revealed the toll giant had asked about the possibility of ending its own contract with the state government in the event a "force majeure" was found to have occurred.
This essentially relieves a party from its contractual obligations in the face of extraordinary and unforeseen circumstances outside its control.
The government told Transurban no, absolutely not.
Justice Kevin Lyons on Friday ruled a tribunal and not the Supreme Court was best placed to sort out the dispute between the company and its builders.
"This is in a context where every issue is in dispute and is hard-fought between the parties," he said.
At least 200 workers on the project have lost their jobs since January because of the delays. The project is now due to be finished in 2023, a year behind schedule.
Australian Associated Press